INSIGHT ON ASSESSMENT, CAUSES AND MANAGEMENT OF LEARNING DISABILITIES




Introduction

Learning disabilities (LD) involves the inability of students to sufficiently demonstrate an acceptable level of academic skills such as reading (recognizing words, phrases, combination of words, reading fluently and comprehending texts), writing and mathematical (e.g. memory development and analytical) skills (Chard et. al 2009).

LD have been classified into many areas such as general and specific (including people with LD who inflict pain on themselves).

General learning disabilities have been described as conditions in which the students academic skills has been seriously debilitated and requiring various and extensive use of educational materials to provide reasonable educational assistance (O’Mahony 2011, p. 112).

Moreover, Specific learning disabilitiesinvolves ‘basic psychological processes’ that has been impaired such that basic abilities of reading, writing, spelling and in addition conditions such as ‘perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction and dyslexia’ could be or have been manifested (Kavale, Spaulding & Beam 2009).

On occasions when LD results in physically harming oneself expressed in body cuts, bruises and similar damage, such conditions describe people who ‘self-injure’ (Heslop 2011)


Assessment of learning disabilities

Assessment of LD is no menial task. It is an increasingly controversial area in education research. However, assessments used today include cognitive assessments, observation and academic assessments (Sze 2009).

Cognitive assessment is one type of assessment that can help to determine academic areas students have difficulties.

IQ tests, for example, help identify areas that the student’s abilities in information identification, processing, interpretation and analysis are impaired. While this assessmentmethod can be revealing, it should not be used alone to arrive at a final conclusion (Sze 2009).

Sze (2009) explains that an observation assessment works best when many individuals provide an independent observation of the student in an unobtrusive manner and the results of the observation analyzed to determine any corroboration.

Though, this method of assessment is subjective, it can be revealing as to the behavior and reactions of the student as teaching sessions is in progress.

Dwairy (2004) cited in Sze (2009) posits that academic assessment can be useful in assessing for LD in students.

Academic results gathered from a student past record can provide valuable clues to the academic strengths and difficulties of the student especially when it is collected over an extended period in order to adequately attempt a correlation of the students’ performance at different time frames.

The author is of the opinion that while multiple assessments are encouraged to develop a broad picture of LD, the conditions in which the assessments are carried out should be well documented and factored in to the conclusion reached especially when the extent of particular impairments are being investigated.


Causes of LD

The cause of LD is a broad research area. Current researches suggest that causes of LD could be biological, genetic, poor fetal development and negative pregnancy habits.

Shapiro and Rich (1999, pp. 25-8) suggests that lack of sufficient nutrients to the developing fetus can lead to an improperly developed brain, hence, a child born with LD.

Other possibilities include ‘unbalanced neurochemistry of the brain’, normal but irregular development of the fetus, hereditary factors and external factors.

External factors such as poor learning methods, environment and materials, though not causes, mitigates the healing process.

Subsequently, a negative pregnancy habit such as large consumption of alcohol during pregnancy has been linked to Faotal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) that causes LD.

This disorder is manifested as ‘craniofacial abnormalities, small head circumference and growth difficulties’ including ‘abnormalities in the heart, misplaced or absent genital organs, small structure or other physical difficulties’ (Carpenter 2011, p. 37).

These groups of students are observed to learn better when visual aids are used.

Furthermore, the inability to process sounds associated with speech – phonological skills – which is absent genetically and passed on to the child by the parent(s) have been identified as one of the causes of specific learning disability (Deepa & Prema 2009).


Current strategies to manage LD

Early recognition and intervention of a child’s delay in the expected performance abilities is regarded as the best approach in remedying LD before it becomes irrecoverable.

Additionally, a supportive learning environment and family can contribute to the speed of recovery of the disabled child or adult (Shapiro & Rich 1999).

Furthermore, ‘text enhancements’ aimed at concretizing the written words such as using ‘graphic organizers, story maps, mnemonic illustrations and study guides are suggested to improve learning.

Cognitive strategies such as teaching students how to isolate the key points and main ideas are suggested as helpful strategies (Jitendra & Gajria 2011, p.13)

Where FASD is diagnosed, possible approaches includes ‘seating the child at the front of the classroom, always in the same seat, minimising distractions, providing a calm space, ensuring visually clear display, using tape on the floor to define spatial boundaries, keeping the classroom door closed, closing blinds partially (if bright light), avoiding bells would be helpful (Carpenter 2011, p. 40).

Moreover, Blackburn, Carpenter and Egerton (2010, p. 143) cited in Carpenter (2011, p. 40) agrees stating that applied strategies for the FASD challenged should include ‘clear, concrete, simple language backed up with visual clues, consistency with language, rewardsand routines, being prepared to repeat instructions and rules, implementing and sticking to a routine, providing structure and constant supervision, employing adaptive teaching techniques which focus upon the child’s interests, strengths and developmental stage’.


Future of LD

Researchers have observed that increasing number of students with LD progress to higher institutions (Mrazik & Makovichuk 2010).

This is due to the support already provided for these students. If you are challenged with or know someone with LD, you can get needed support here to assist you complete your tertiary education successfully.

However, more needs to be done. The government have been urged to emphasize the destructive effects of alcohol for pregnant mothers so as to avoid preventable causes of LD.

Teachers employed to teach students with LD need access to current research information to help improve their techniques in assisting the students grasp the required academic skills and information.

Moreover, more funds would be required to ensure continued research in disability studies to ensure the challenged child is not condemned to fail.


Conclusion

LD has been identified as the inability of students to show normally acceptable levels of academic performance.

Cognitive, observation and academic performance assessments were discussed as some of the ways to evaluate the LD condition in students. Moreover, genetic, biological, poor fetus development and negative pregnancy habits were identified as some causes of LD.

Therefore, cognitive strategies such as text enhancements were proposed to manage LD. However, early recognition and intervention is highly recommended to provide the best chance of recovery.

Finally, important recommendations affecting the government and instructors were highlighted to ensure that students suffering form learning disabilities are not doomed but supported to be productive members of society.


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REFERENCES

Carpenter, B (2011), ‘Pedagogically bereft! Improving learning outcomes with children with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders’,British Journal of Special Education, vol. 38, issue 1.

Chard, D., J, Ketterlin-geller, L., R, Baker, S., K, Doabler,C & Apichatabutra, C (2009), ‘Repeated reading interventions for students with learning disabilities: status of evidence’, Council for Exceptional Children, vol. 75, No. 3, pp. 263-281.

Deepa, M., S & Prema, K., S (2009), 'Phonological awareness in specific learning disability: a journey into search for genetic inheritance', Journal of the India Institute of Speech & hearing, vol. 28, pp. 65-74.

Heslop, P., T (2011), ‘Supporting people with learning disabilities who self-injure’, Tizard Learning Disability Review, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 5-15.

Jitendra, A., K & Gajria, M (2011), ‘Reading comprehension instruction for students with learning disabilities’ Focus on Exceptional Children, vol. 43, no. 8.

Kavale, K., A, Spaulding, L., S & Beam, A., P (2009), ‘A time to define: making the specific learning disability definition prescribe specific learning disability’, Learning Disability Quarterly, vol 32, no. 1, pp. 39-48.

Mrazik, M, Bender, S & Makovichuk, C (2010), ‘Memory functioning in post-secondary students with learning disabilities,’ Research in Higher Education Journal.

O’Mahony, P., J (2011), ‘Leadership and learning in special schools for students with low incidence general learning disabilities in a time of change in Ireland: principals’ perceptions’, REACH Journal of Special Needs Education in Ireland, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 111-122.

Shapiro, J & Rich, R (1999), Facing learning disabilities in the adult years: understanding dyslexia, ADHD, assessment, intervention and research, Oxford University Press, United Kingdom.

Sze, Susan 2009, ‘Mislabelled reading and learning disabilities: assessment and treatment for reading difficulties in students with learning disabilities’, College Student Journal, vol. 43, issue 4.


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